John Bilsborough

Commissioned by the BBC World Service to celebrate the entry of television cameras into the House of Lords, 1985
His Lordship, with the wife and hounds,
was strolling round the mansion grounds.
A man of habit and tradition-
'A man,' he'd say, 'in my position,
can do no more than sit and wait.
Ambition's not a family trait,
but, oh, look there, me folly, Mollie,
overgrown with holly... Golly!
Look, me crinkle-crankle's cracked...
Tell Bates the under-gardener's sacked!'

'Too late, my dear, too late... they've gone.
We can't afford to keep them on.
I've sold the Rembrandt to some sheiks -
Well, you haven't looked at it for weeks...
and what's that place we never went?
Well, anyway, I've sold it... Kent?
It's time you got a job, old fruit.
You can ask my maid to press your suit.
The House of Lords has jobs to spare.
I'm sure you'll pick up something there.

I do not think you wear a sword...
And so it was: 'This way, my Lord...
A seat, my Lord?' And what is this?
A scene of soporific bliss -
from hordes of Lords and tiers of peers,
contented grunts and odd 'hear-hear's
He settled back to contemplate
the wisdom of the Lords' debate.
In less that twenty seconds flat,
he fell asleep, and that was that.

It chanced the seat that was beside
the one our hero occupied
contained one of that curious breed
of Men Determined To Succeed.
And so it was, whene'er he spoke,
or raised a point, or cracked a joke,
or called for care, or voiced a doubt,
the t.v. cameras picked him out,
and showed, of course, (how could they not?)
our sleeping beauty, in each shot.

The bright young peer who aired his views
was featured in the evening news.
He was, they said, a rising star,
whose brilliance would take him far -
unlike his colleague, in disgrace,
who scarcely now dare show his face,
and merely murmured, 'Well, I guess,
this is not how to court success.
He scarcely could suppress a moan
when summoned to the telephone.

But, much to his extreme delight,
his caller was a kind, polite
executive from 'Sleepyheads'-
a manufactury of beds -
inviting him to name his fee
to do commercials on t.v.
He was, in short, a household name.
He did not have to strive for fame.
He did not have to act or think,
or sit or stand, or eat or drink,
or work or play or smile or weep...
He simply had to fall asleep.

And so began the new career
of the nation's best-loved Tele-peer.
Within a week, the noble Lord
had been elected to the board -
sleeping partner, as may be,
but still entitled to a fee.
Another call - would he endorse
a brand of sleeping pills? Of course!
His Lordship swiftly gave consent,
and bought the other half of Kent.

His big-screen debut came by way
of that most interesting play,
'The Second Mrs Oglethorpes'.
He played a most convincing corpse
and straightway bought, with his advance,
a villa, in the South of France,
an island paradise and lots
of Renoirs, motor-cars and yachts -
and lived a life of wedded bliss.
In startling contrast to all this,
the bright young peer who aired his views
and briefly made the headline news
is far too busy being boring,
to think where he'd have got by snoring.
The end